Saturday, January 23, 2010

Milwaukee Bucks 2009-10 Midseason Player Rankings

Get ready for a mega look at the first half of the Milwaukee Bucks season.

Positives from the 1st half of the 2009-10 season:
- The Bucks started the season 8-3.

- Rookie point guard Brandon Jennings looks like an superstar in the making.

- Center Andrew Bogut is proving his worth in the first year of his five-year contract extension. Bogut only missed a handful of games so far and is averaging 32.9 minutes (2nd to Jennings), 15.6 points (2nd to Jennings), 10.3 rebounds (1st) and 2.14 blocks (1st).

- The Bucks off-season acquisitions of Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova and Hakim Warrick on cheap, short-term contracts are looking like money well spent.

- The Bucks are 2 games out of the 8th playoff spot held by the Chicago Bulls (Bucks currently lead the Bulls in their season series 2-1) despite being picked to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference by almost every national publication.

- The Bucks are protecting the Fortress on 4th (the Bradley Center for those of you that are not hip to Cheesehead lingo) with a 12-7 home record.

Negatives from the first half of the season:
- After starting the season 8-3, the Bucks went 9-20 over their next 29 games.

- The Bucks lost Michael Redd to the same knee injury for the second straight season.

- The Bucks are having a hard time closing out close games: lost 9 games by 3 points or fewer.

- The Bucks have struggled in overtime games going 2-4.

- Like most NBA teams, the Bucks have trouble on the road 5-17 record (1-5 on their recent West coast swing).

Stock Up:
- Charlie Bell, mostly because of Redd's injury, went from preseason #13 to #8.

- Brandon Jennings went from preseason #6 to #2.

Stock Down:
- Michael Redd went from preseason #2 to #15.

- Hakim Warrick went from preseason #1 to #6.

A Quick Look Back:
If you look back at my Milwaukee Bucks 2009-2010 Season Preview, this is how things looked coming into the season (click here):

- Sports Illustrated picked the Bucks to finish last in the Eastern Conference.

- ranked the Bucks the 29th best team in the NBA narrowly edging out the Minnesota Timberwolves.

-'s season opening power rankings have the Bucks listed 27 out of 30 narrowly edging out the Memphis Grizllies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings.

Surprisingly the Bucks were ranked below the Nets in every preview...good job "experts".

Here were the questions coming into the season:
- Will Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd rebound from injuries? Yes to Bogut, big no to Redd.

- How will all of the players mesh with each other (seven players on the roster that did not play for the Bucks last season)? The team has meshed pretty well so far all things considered.

- Will Brandon Jennings become a legitimate starting point guard? Qualified yes since we are only a half season into what looks like a very promising NBA career.

- How many players will Scott Skiles use in his rotation? Still settling out with the loss of Redd and the addition of Stackhouse.

- Will the Bucks move one of their expiring contracts (Ridnour, Thomas or Elson)? Still don't know, the only one that looks valuable is Ridnour but whether the Bucks try to move Ridnour depends on whether the Bucks are in the mix for the NBA playoffs.

The List:
Here are my updated rankings of the 2009-2010 members of the Milwaukee Bucks. Just as a refresher, there are a number of factors that determine each player's value: short-term expectations, long-term expectations, salary, relative strength at each position and swagger (I know that some of those factors are subjective). Here is the updated list:

#16 (previously #11) - Roko Ukic (Guard): One of my preseason predictions came true. I predicted despite Ukic's potential the Bucks would have a hard time finding minutes for him because of the crowded backcourt (Jennings, Ridnour, Redd, Bell and Meeks). Ukic appeared in only 13 games for the Bucks before asking for his release so that he could get more playing time in Europe, Ukic ultimately signed with Fenerbahçe Ülker in Turkey.

#15 (previously #2) - Michael Redd (Guard): Might have played his last productive game for the Bucks on January 10, 2009 against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Redd has gone from a second-round pick in the 2000 NBA Draft (43rd overall) to the 10th highest paid player in the NBA in 2010. The Bucks owe Redd $17 million this year and Redd holds a $18.3 million player option for next season. $18.3 million is a ton of money to pay a 30 year-old shooting guard coming off two reconstructive knee surgeries on the same knee over two years. Redd is a devout Christian so some might argue that if he follows "The Golden Rule" he should decline his player option for next season but that would be downright foolish. Redd is unlikely to make $18.3 million the rest of his life so why not bank that for one season of rehab. What complicates the situation is that Redd is one of the nicest guys in the NBA and has possibly the quickest release in the NBA so it is hard to bad mouth him. The knock on Redd is that he was never a "max contract guy". Michael Redd would have thrived as a second or third option on a good team but never carried the Bucks as a franchise player.

#14 (previously #14) - Joe Alexander (Forward): John Hammond's first draft pick as Milwaukee Bucks GM is officially a bust after only one and a half seasons. Hammond choose Joe Alexander #8 overall in the 2008 NBA Draft (instead of taking Brook Lopez, Anthony Randolph or Courtney Lee just to name a few). Alexander had a very unimpressive rookie campaign, he played in 59 games but only averaged 4.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and .7 assists. Alexander has yet to play for the Bucks this season because of injuries. The Bucks essentially gave up on Alexander earlier this season by declining their team option on Alexander for 2010-2011 which rarely happens after only two seasons in the NBA. Alexander is currently on a rehab stint in the NBDL. If Alexander wants to resurrect his career, he has to stay healthy for more then a few weeks at a time.

#13 (previously #12) - Francisco Elson (Center): Appeared in a team low 11 games (besides Stackhouse who has only been with the team 2 games) contributing next to nothing in those appearances. Elson is earning the easiest $1.7 million in NBA history this year.

#12 (previously #15)- Dan Gadzuric (Center): Ganny G only appeared in 19 games (started 6) because a number of recurring injuries this season. Much like Elson, Gadzuric is earning a ton of money ($6.75 million) for limited production.

#11 (previously #7) - Kurt Thomas (forward): Speaking of earning a ton of money for playing very little, Thomas rounds out the triumvirate. Playing time has been hard to come by for Thomas with the emergence of new comers Ersan Ilyasova, Hakim Warrick and Carlos Delfino. Add in the recent signing of Jerry Stackhouse and Thomas is going to earn $3.8 million this season for clapping and occasionally dispensing wisdom to the younger players on the team...its great to be Kurt Thomas.

#10 (previously NR) - Jerry Stackhouse (Forward): A very smart signing by John Hammond. Stackhouse's veteran presence will be crucial with the loss of Michael Redd. Although Stackhouse is in the twilight of his career, what is not to like about Stackhouse? Over his 856 game career Stackhouse has averaged 18.4 points, 3.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and .97 steals. Furthermore, Stackhouse has said all the right things since joining the Bucks: "I get along well with everybody. These guys are going to help keep me young." Stackhouse signed for peanuts by NBA standards. To put it in perspective, Stackhouse will earn $340,000 for the rest of the season while Elson, Gadzuric and Thomas will earn roughly $6.5 million for the rest of the season (that doesn't even factor in the $6.5 million they already earned this season) or 18 times more than Stackhouse for much less production. The Bucks will get a huge bang for the buck (no pun intended) for Stackhouse in the second half of the season, look for him to move into the Top 5 Bucks by the end of the season if he can stay healthy.

#9 (previously #10) - Jodie Meeks (Guard): Despite the loss of Redd, Meeks has been given very few chances to play this season (appeared in 32 games, starting none). As stated earlier, playing time is hard to come by in the Bucks crowded backcourt. There is no question that Meeks can score, he set the University of Kentucky single game scoring record last year but Meeks needs to improve on the defensive end of the court if he wants Bucks coach Scott Skiles to increase his playing time.

#8 (previously #13) - Charlie Bell (Guard): Bell has started at shooting guard at various points this season because of Michael Redd's well documented injuries. Unfortunately Bell doesn't have a ton statistics to show for it. Bell has appeared in 39 games (started 22) averaging 26 minutes, 7.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, .72 steals and .23 blocks. If I were Scott Skiles, I would give Meeks more playing time then Bell. The Bucks have both Bell and Meeks signed through the 2011-2012 season but between now and then Bell will earn $9.75 million and Meeks will earn $2 million. If it is all about the money then play Bell but if it is all about the future then play Meeks now...worked out pretty well with Luc Richard Mbah a Moute last season.

#7 (previously #5) - Carlos Delfino (Guard/Forward): Delfino has started 29 games for the Bucks this season but has not maximized his opportunities so far. Despite being 5th in minutes per game on the Bucks if you don't count Redd, Delfino is averaging less than 10 points a game (9.2) while shooting less than 40% from the field. Delfino was acquired in a sign and trade with the Toronto Raptors in the off-season and signed a 3 year, $10.5 million contract (earns equal amounts of $3.5 million per year as opposed to most NBA contracts that step up after each season) so he is still relatively cheap by NBA standards. Look for Delfino to have a better year next year and a breakout season in his contract year 2011/2012 so he can sign a lucrative contract with another team for the 2012-13 season.

#6 (previously #1) - Hakim Warrick (Forward): May be the Memphis Grizzlies were smart for deciding not to offer their former first-round pick a contract in the off-season. The Grizzlies, much like the Bucks, were picked to be bottom feeders of their conference at the start of the season. Currently the Grizzlies are 23-19 and only one game out of the 8th seed in the Western Conference. I put Warrick #1 on the list at the start of the season (biggest mistake of the rankings obviously) because Warrick's combination of size, speed, athleticism and shooting range seemed to make him an ideal fit for the Bucks uptempo offense. At the very least, I thought Warrick would be a perfect 6th man for the Bucks, unfortunately that hasn't been the case. On the positive side, Warrick appeared in 40 of 41 games this season for the Bucks (only started only 6 games though) and is attempting to make the most of his time on the court. Warrick is averaging 22.1 minutes, 10.2 points and 4.3 rebounds.

#5 (previously #9) - Luke Ridnour (Guard): At the start of the season Ridnour looked like the most likely candidate to get traded since he is in the last year of his contract and only earning $6.5 million. While that might still happen if the Bucks fall out of playoff contention before the trading deadline, Ridnour has been a huge spark for the Bucks off the bench. Despite not starting a single game this season and battling through a number of injuries, Ridnour is one of only three Bucks to appear in every game this season along with Ilyasova and Jennings. Rindour is not even in the top 6 in minutes per game but only trails Jennings and Bogut in points per game (again not counting Redd), Jennings in assists and has the highest assist to turnover ratio on the team. Ridnour has helped Jennings flourish and John Hammond should only consider trading Ridnour if he can get a very good player in return (such as Kirk Hinrich and Jerome James for Luke Ridnour and Dan Gadzuric...probably would never happen but the trade worked in the NBA Trade Machine on, check out the website here if you want to waste 4 or 5 hours on hypothetical trades that you have no control over). Otherwise the Bucks should let Ridnour play out his contract and see if he is willing to return next year for a below market deal.

#4 (previously #8) - Ersan Ilyasova (Forward): John Hammond faced a decision in the off-season on what to do with Charlie Villanueva. If the Bucks resigned Charlie V it would push the them over the luxury tax with a long-term Danny G like contract. Instead, John Hammond brought Ersan Ilyasova back from Europe at a much cheaper price. The statistics and money, all be it only through a half of a season, shows that it was a smart decision.

- Ilyasova: 41 games (31 started), 24.4 MPG, .417 FG%, .351 3P%, .727 FT%, 6.8 Rebounds (2.1 offensive and 4.7 defensive) and 10.7 points.
- Charlie V: 41 games (16 started), 27.3 MPG, .437 FG%, .321 3P%, .821 FT%, 5.5 Rebounds (1.2 offensive and 4.3 defensive) and 14.0 points.

The Money:
- Ilyasova: $6.96 million for three years ('09-10: $2.1 million, '10-11: $2.3 million and '11-12: $2.54 million) or $2.32 million per year.
- Charlie V: $37.7 million for five years ('09-10: $6.50 million, '10-11: $7.02 million, '11-12: $7.54 million, '12-13: $8.06 million and '13-14: $8.58 million player option) or $7.54 million per year.

The Bucks opted to bring back Ilyasova for three years at little more than what Charlie V will make in the first season of a five year contract. If Ilyasova can put on a little muscle over the next year while maintaining his outside touch, he fits the profile of a budding NBA superstar.

#3 (previously #4) - Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (Forward): He is an actual prince in his native village of Bia Messe in Cameroon (source: here) so he will be referred to as "The Prince" any time he is mentioned going forward. Besides fighting some minor injuries this season, The Prince picked up this season where he left off last season by playing lock down defense on the opposing team's best offensive player. Although The Prince does not score very much, he is 3rd on the team in rebounds and provides the Bucks with some much needed versatility (can play both small forward and power forward). The Prince is being paid like a peasant by NBA standards (a mere $736,420) and is worth every penny.

#2 (Previously #6) - Brandon Jennings (Guard): After half a season Jennings looks like a trail blazer in every sense of the word. In only his 7th NBA game Jennings took the NBA by storm when he dropped a Double Nickel (tied for 2nd most in Bucks history) on the Golden Sate Warriors. Since then, the Bucks have been moved to a few national TV appearances and are actually talked about by the national media. To put his 55 points in perspective, here is the list of most points by a rookie in NBA history:
- 58: twice by Wilt Chamberlain (January and February 1960)
- 57: once by Rick Barry (December 1965)
- 56: once by Earl Monroe (February 1968)
- 55: Brandon Jennings (Saturday, November 14, 2009), Wilt Chamberlain (November 1959) and Elgin Baylor (February 1959)

Jennings is the first player to forgo college and opt to play in Europe for a season to satisfy the NBA requirement of being out of high school for one season before entering the NBA. Jennings is in the top 4 among all rookies in almost every offensive statistic: 1st in assists, 2nd in scoring, 3rd in free-throw percentage and 4th in three-point percentage. With Blake Griffin (#1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft) out for the season and Ricky Rubio (#5 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft) playing in Europe, Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings are looking like the darlings of the 2009 NBA Draft. Jennings did not put up big number in Italy last season, so most teams were afraid to draft him but 7 of the 9 teams that passed on him are re-thinking their decision. The only teams that can defend their decision to pass on Jennings are the Los Angeles Clipper and Sacramento Kings. The Clippers got Blake Griffin #1 and despite his freak knee injury should be closer to Lebron James than Michael Olowokandi (but it just shows you how snake bitten of a franchise the Clipper really are). The Kings picked Tyreke Evans #4 (good job Memphis taking Hasheem Thabeet #2 and Oklahoma City James Harden #3) and looks to be the odds on favorite to win the rookie of the year award.

#1 (Previously #3) - Andrew Bogut (Center): Maybe Bogut read the Forbes article at the start of the season that claims he is one of the NBA's most over paid players. The Bucks have Bogut under contract for five-years for $60.5 million ('09-'10: $10 million, '10-'11: 11.05 million, '11-12: $12.1 million, '12-13: 13.15 million and '13-14: 14.2 million) which is really cheap by NBA standards for a starting NBA center, especially if Bogut can stay healthy. With Redd out, the Bucks can finally funnel the offense through Bogut which is what they should have been doing all along. The Bucks are 12-2 when Bogut scores 17 or more points. I actually find this to be a legitimate statistic because sometimes those statistics are a shame. An example of a sham statistic is that the NFL loves to flash the stats that when "running back X gains more than 100 yards rushing his team is 12-2". Usually those rushing yards are gained in the second half when the team is leading and they are trying to bleed the clock. As a result, the running back gets 100 yards because his teams is winning as opposed to the other way around. In the case of Bogut, it is almost the opposite. When the Bucks get Bogut involved in the offense early and often the team wins games. Bogut passes well for a big man (tied for 4th on the team in assists) which makes even more of a case to run the offense through him. Besides assists, Bogut is averaging a double-double so far this season and is either first or second in every major category for the Bucks: 32.9 minutes per game (2nd to Jennings), 15.6 points per game (2nd to Jennings), 10.3 rebounds per game (1st) and 2.14 blocks per game (1st).

Final Thoughts:
With the young core of Ilyasova, The Price, Jennings and Bogut, despite what most pundits say, the Bucks look a like a team on the rise for the 2011-2012 season. That is the only hitch, I did say the 2011-2012 season. The Bucks still need to shed some ugly Larry Harris contracts after next season, Michael Redd and Danny G are scheduled to earn a combined $25.5 million for the 2010-11 NBA season. For the 2011-12 season the Bucks only have $19.6 million committed ($25.6 million if team options are exercised) all on "core" players Andrew Bogut ($12.1 million), Charlie Bell ($4.1 million), Carlos Delfino ($3.5 million team option), Brandon Jennings ($2.5 million team option), Ersan Ilyasova ($2.5 million) and Jodie Meeks ($900,000). That is a pretty nice, cheap core for the 2011-12 season. If Hammond can hit on 50% of his picks in the next two drafts with his 4 picks (2 first rounders and 2 second rounders) the Milwaukee Bucks will be a fun team to watch.

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